Pulitzer Prize: the Kendrick Lamar revolution – Jeune Afrique

At only 30 years old, Kendrick Lamar, with his album “DAMN”, is crowned with the Pulitzer Prize, which has never rewarded a modern music artist. A consecration for the rapper, who recounts with poetry the suffering of young African-Americans.

Many music lovers call Kendrick Lamar a genius. His album DAMN, released in 2017, earned him the Pulitzer Prize for music this Monday, April 16. A first in the history of this award and of hip-hop. Created in 1943, the prestigious American award had, until then, only been awarded to albums of classical or jazz music.

But the rapper from Compton, Los Angeles County, is no ordinary rapper. After winning 12 Grammy Awards in 2016, the Pulitzer jury now offers him a prize for incredible consecration.

A modern poet

The Kendrick revolution is above all corrosive, sharp texts, a sharp pen. His album DAMN contains 14 tracks, with titles written in capitals, as if to underline the importance of its concepts. Of BLOOD (blood) to FEAR (fear) going through LOVE (love) and DNA (DNA), Kendrick raps about the very essence of life. All these titles resonate with each other. So the last track of the album Duckworth (his last name) incorporates bits and pieces of the first track, BLOOD, like a background poetry.

The rhythm is just as innovative, because the rapper does not hesitate to mix genres and call on U2, Rihanna or Steve Lacy, a jazz musician. The Pulitzer jury described his album as “a collection of pieces full of virtuosity, unified by the authenticity of its language and a rhythmic dynamic which offers striking photos, capturing the complexity of modern African-American life”.

His tracks reveal how Kendrick is also the symbol of a whole youth

On very sharp arrangements, the singer shoots, but calmly. His citizen anger is nuanced by his posture of observer of a difficult social reality. A rhythm alternately aggressive, jerky, monotonous, unstructured. For his artistic entourage, Kendrick Lamar is a great perfectionist who is not afraid to take risks. And from the first title, BLOOD, the singer imposes his audacity.

Like a slam, he tells of his meeting with a blind woman who seems to have lost something. While wanting to help him, the narrator is seen replying a deafening: “It is you who lost your life”, followed by a sound of shooting. Metaphors for police violence against young African-Americans, his tracks reveal how Kendrick is also the symbol of a whole dying youth, trapped by the police and gangs.

A social fresco

In this fourth album, the virtuoso reveals his intimacy and sings on certain tracks the effects of celebrity and his loneliness, while, on others, he recounts the misfortunes of a society that is going badly. Kendrick Lamar has a keen eye on contemporary American society, and more particularly on life in Compton. This poor neighborhood of Los Angeles saw him be born and grow. Known for the violence of his gangs, Compton is at the heart of the social fresco depicted by the young rapper.

The artist confronts America with its wounds

He deploys all his talent to tell, with fatalism and anger, the miseries of those around him. He who has seen some of his relatives die under stray bullets during clashes between the Crips and Bloods gangs, has transcended this violence through his music. He pays homage to those who left too early, killed by gangs or the police, or incarcerated, and continues to fervently denounce the imprisonment of youth in the drug and gun cycle. DAMN tells it all, as if to wake America up and confront it with its plagues. And this social fresco is also expressed through his clips. Real short films, they show the life of deprived African-American neighborhoods with aesthetics. Kendrick remains a committed singer who delivers through his work an allegory of an America in suffering.

Enough to conquer the general public as well as the critics, to the point of creating a revolution within the very prestigious Pulitzer. At a time when adolescents are marching to denounce the mass killings and are mobilizing within the Black Lives Matter movement, the singer’s speech is more than ever in phase with the struggles of young Americans.

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Pulitzer Prize: the Kendrick Lamar revolution – Jeune Afrique

Hank Gilbert